The Perks of Being a Sideman

Tomorrow night I’m playing at HEART in Headingley with Jamie Taylor and his new quartet, following on from a weekend of appearing as part of Jiannis Pavlidis’ and Mark Donlon’s bands. A growing proportion of the gigs I’m doing are now as a sideman, which is a role I always wanted to play more often. Before the advent of jazz education and music college courses in jazz, pretty much the only way to learn the craft was for younger players to work with the older, more experienced ones, who would pass on their knowledge and skills and keep the music going. Since I am a product of the jazz education system, studying at Leeds College of Music, I was still a little uneasy going straight into leading my own bands without much of this experience of sideman work, so it’s wonderful to now be part of a few bands led by experienced players from an older generation.

The Jiannis Pavlidis Quintet is made up of Jiannis on guitar, Declan Forde (piano), Sam Vicary (double-bass), Sam Gardner (drums) and myself. Jiannis studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and has toured and recorded with many world-renowned jazz artists such as Dave Liebman and Adam Nussbaum. We met through LCM where he is a lecturer. The quintet plays Jiannis’ original music which sounds to me quite influenced by late 60’s/70’s Miles (the groove stuff), with elements of Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Mark Turner and Coltrane, and all based on the tradition of standards and swing.

Pianist Mark Donlon was another of my lecturers at LCM, and his quartet also features Simon Read (double-bass) and Sam Gardner (drums). Mark was based in London for many years before moving to Leeds, and has worked with a lot of top British Jazz players like Julian Siegel, Kenny Wheeler and Tim Garland. This quartet plays his original music from his latest album, ‘Kashasha,’ as well as some music by Simon, Sam and I, and has a bit more of a European flavour than the other bands.

Jamie Taylor was Course Leader when I was studying, so again it’s a real honour to be playing in his band. As well as Jamie on guitar, his quartet also includes heavy-weights Dave Walsh (drums) and Garry Jackson (double-bass), so it’s another great learning curve. The music is very much based in the American jazz tradition with an emphasis on original compositions by Jamie as well as some nicely arranged standards.